But with our prime minister intent on pursuing his "last effort" at peace with Islamabad, there is space for books that examine in a scholarly way the issues that divide India and Pakistan and offer possible compromises. This thin book, however, largely has personal reminiscences about the tenures of a Pakistani and Indian ambassador who held office in different eras. Humayun Khan became ambassador to India in 1984 when the US, employing the ISI as a conduit, was funnelling hundreds of millions of dollars worth of arms to anti-Soviet Afghan guerrillas. G. Parthasarthy, in contrast, was posted to Islamabad after Vajpayee came to power.
This clearly is a publisher’s book where the authors were chosen to fit the theme. But unable to find two envoys who served in the same period to write how they handled the same events, the publisher settled for what he had. So we have Parthasarthy describing his experiences during the Lahore summit, Kargil and the IC-814 hijacking, and Khan recounting the Punjab crisis, Indira Gandhi’s assassination, Operation Brass Tacks and the Zia-Rajiv accord not to attack each other’s nuclear facilities.
The authors are a study in contrast. Khan, a polished diplomat of a fading genre, is polite to a fault. He has nice things to say about India and every Indian he names, except Mrs Gandhi. The soldier-turned-diplomat Parthasarthy does not shy away from blunt assessments. He quotes from his predecessor’s memo about Pervez Musharraf: "Ambitious, devious and virulently anti-Indian." Parthasarthy avers that three-quarters of the Pak high commission staff in New Delhi has "ISI links and actively participate(s) in espionage".
While Khan draws his account around the larger picture, Parthasarthy’s attention on personalities could offend big egos. We’re told that "Jaswant Singh got so carried away" during the Lahore summit that he "seemed more interested in obtaining a replica of a bronze statuette in the Governor’s residence than on issues of substance". And that Masood Azhar "spent his time on the flight to Kandahar hurling abuses" at India and Jaswant Singh. Parthasarthy is scathing on R.K. Mishra’s backchannel role during Kargil but spares Brajesh Mishra who relayed messages to Nawaz Sharif through him.
Not only is Khan’s focus different, he also has the advantage of narrating his experiences with actors either dead or retired. In his essay, one of the finest Pakistani assessments, his arguments for peace flow from his discernible pain over the sorry state of affairs in his country. He makes a string of revelations: Zia was embarrassed by technical evidence from Germany that the pistol seized from one of the hijackers of an Indian airliner had "originally been sold to an official agency in Pakistan"; and that he "initiated the ISI’s activities inside Kashmir". Khan laments that the Pakistani "military mindset" assumes the "worst intentions" regarding India, and warns that "it is imperative for Pakistan’s ruling elite to understand that adventurous and high-risk policies could well invite the very disasters it believes it is preventing".